No surprise mid-dialogue start. Blue-throw down then an S-shaped bone dodge straight into 4 waves of Blasters; safe center, side, center, side. Here we go.
They don't respond.
You have actually lost count of the number of times they've attempted to kill you. At least off the top of your head. Internally, you've realized that you are unable to not know, numbers spinning in the corner of your subconscious mind as The Game forces you to keep track. It has to in order to function.
While you have an idea of what it means, it's still hard to comprehend. Even more so than just the different timelines. It's like being privy to a glimmer of the machinations of reality... and not knowing how to feel as that "reality" starts reflecting more and more like an illusion.
There's still a job to do, though.
They're blue. Short bone hops. Blue-attack bones followed by short bones first one direction and then the other. Bone hops with uneven rates between the two sides. Platform hopping, short version. Platform hopping, long version.
You keep saying your lines. And that's really all they are at this point, lines from a script you keep forgetting about until it's your turn to fight and they just spill out of you imperatively. A part of you wonders if perhaps you're hoping the repetition will annoy them enough to make them stop Loading.
That one is kind of new, Loading. Resets are straight-forward and pretty simple to quantify: nothing that happens after this human falls down into the Underground is technically 'permanent' - the human is always able to undo everything and skip back to before they even exited the Ruins. Loading, though... is more like calling on a bookmark - a Save - and using it as a means of Sorta-Resetting, a 'do-over', to a point where if something goes wrong or they kick the bucket they could just try again.
Saves push against reality pretty hard. Why can't anyone else do that? Maybe it's just DETERMINATION.
Maybe it's The Game.
The human takes a turn to eat a sandwich. You don't have lines for when they don't attack. They have to swing at you to make the battle progress. You're not allowed to talk to them if they don't want to end you.
Still blue. Three levels of platforms with bone walls to avoid. A moving platform over a sea of bones while dodging bone lines cutting up and down the arena. Three levels of platforms while avoiding Blasters. Long bones on the ceiling heading left, short bones on the bottom heading right, hopping between gaps to not get crushed against a wall.
They'd spared you, once. That'd felt good. Dunked the sucker and took a different jab at their efforts; don't come back if we're friends.
Of course they came back.
But you keep trying. Lines over and over. They'd cared about Monsters once. The Game told you so. You aren't sure you trust it though. What had happened? What do they think they'll gain from all this death and destruction?
Wasn't being happy enough?
They eat another sandwich; they always seem to have issues with your Blaster attacks, no matter how many times they get to this point. It cycles to your turn but all you can do right now is pretend to show them Mercy. Back to them, they jab that knife at you, and miss, and their entire body tenses as they brace for what comes next.
Worth a shot, you tell them. You don't believe that anymore. Though you do need this break - The Game knows, you're strong, but you're also a short fuse, and you need a moment to prepare to break a lot of the fucking rules.
In with the time skips.
It's like taking six turns in a row and it's draining. You have to trick the system into thinking your turn is getting interrupted so it'll let you have your own sort of 'do-over'. You dimly notice between flashes that the human is doing a lot better this time than before, and won't need to heal if they're careful with this next part.
The bone you toss at the human's Dialogue Box on their turn is another shattered staple of The Code of Fighting Conduct. It bends very hard against reality, too; it's the human's turn, but The Game has given you clearance now to absolutely screw with them. They have to time their selection of your name after choosing the Fight option, or the bone will collide with their SOUL and shred their HP in a second.
You can't kill them with this trick, though. A rule you aren't allowed to touch. They cannot die if it isn't on your turn.
They manage to slash at you again.
Now here we go.
It's the first time you release Blue-control over the human since your very first attack. Not only do they now have to readjust to having full-range of motion in the arena, but must do so as you fling Blaster after Blaster at them. The weapons have a delay between placement and firing, though, so while their accuracy is generally pin-point they can still be dodged with enough reaction time.
This poor sod of a human used to really suck at this part. They have now gotten much, much better. A dark feeling twists in the marrow your bones.
The REAL battle seems to have truly begun this time.
More time skipping. You bring back elements of your first attack, switching quick between control tactics. The human comes out of it completely unscathed.
Half their HP suddenly gets obliterated as your bones wipe across the bottom of the human's Game Interface. Seems they forgot about this being a thing, or they just didn't get out of the way fast enough. They sit on the Item screen for a moment, letting the fuchsia KR finish its work, before chowing down on another sandwich and coming back into the fray.
You throw another new attack at them - or should it be that you throw them? This is the most tiring part, slamming their Blue-affected SOUL around the arena against complaints from The Game about gravity and physics. It's worse knowing that this human is actually stupidly skilled in countering this attack, and that for all its bitching, The Game's script still makes you do it anyway.
Human attacks; you fling them around faster.
Human attacks; you set larger blasters after them.
Human attacks; two sets of bones going in opposite directions cut the arena in half lengthwise and their SOUL does a rather hilarious circular dance in order to dodge properly.
Time skips. Even faster flinging. The pull of exhaustion is vividly real now. Fling. FLING. FLING. SKIP.
Their SOUL smashes against the left of the arena, before the box warps and drags them to the right like they're falling off a cliff. They pass under you as the human swiftly serpentines through the first and second corridor of bones, then expertly center themselves to squeeze through the middle of the third. They crash into the right wall of the arena before throwing themselves backwards against your Blue-control to escape the bones that jut up after them with an ease that closely alarms you.
Skip, place, jump. Skip, place, jump. Skip, place, jump. Skip... place... jump...
The human's HP is more than half.
This is where they'd always failed. The Blasters were already their weakness and no matter how hard they'd try to stay out of the spinning vortex of doom, they would always move just a little too slow - just a little too fast - just a little too close - just a little too far. You'd talked shit about your first attack being the strongest you had to use; it was a complete lie. This is the strongest, the longest, the least familiar, the most demanding on all your resources, the only one that time and time again has splintered that little red heart into absolute smithereens right as you pass out before the goddamn human Loads again.
But they had gotten better.
Panic surges. The human is holding out. Their HP dips hard as they stutter in their rhythmic pattern, but the KR is acting too slow to end them.
Your Blasters vanish. 1 HP. Both of you.
They won, The Game tells you.
You grab the human's SOUL and beat them senseless against the sides of the arena in a fit of terrified rage you hadn't expected to feel. It is a tantrum of helplessness, and it's harmless, doing absolutely nothing to injure their remaining health. A grimace creases your sweating face; you slowly lower the SOUL to the floor.
Numbers flash in your mind. LV 19. You plant all your remaining magic against the Battle Rules and the system comes to a silent, screeching halt.
You cannot let them reach LV 20.
And if they can't die when it isn't your turn...
...maybe you can't die if it isn't theirs.
For some reason The Game has you telling the human your idea. Maybe it lets you cheat only if you explain yourself. That's fine, you suppose. Not like it'd change anything for them to know.
But The Game also puts another thought in your head:
If you're allowed to break the rules, then the human is allowed to break them, as well.
In a hazy moment of understanding, you know that manipulation of the arena space is now the one thing you have to watch out for. You'll out-cheat the human all day if you have to. Their soul drifts to the left-hand wall - towards Fight - and you spike them back to the middle with a jolt of harried magic.
They fall still.
Your eyes droop...
You hear a faint, mirthless chuckle.
Sleep is demanding your immediate attention...
The human does something weird.
Your magic jerks you back to alertness, and staving off your exhaustion, but then it doesn't stop. For some reason, the human is directing their SOUL towards the left-hand wall of the arena over, and over, and over again, like the left-arrow button on a keyboard somewhere had gotten stuck being pressed down. The wry comparison almost makes you certain of it.
They... start talking.
"I did it," they all but croak, laughter shaking around their shoulders. The human lifts their head, half-smiling in a way that makes you uncertain if they're happy or have just finally lost their mind. They laugh, again, touching upon hysterical, and then...
...and then they start to cry.
It stuns you; The Game offers you no insight. The sound of the human's sobbing is raw, ugly, and SOUL-deep. They fall to their knees, the pain of the collapse sobering them a little, and they sit back on their feet, staring at you with eyes full of so many emotions that you cannot even begin to unravel them all.
"Thank you," they say, that odd half-smile turning momentarily fond. "I had seen so many other people fight you, and I just... I couldn't take it anymore. I was jealous. I wanted to face you at your true potential. And now I have."
Your mind is absolutely spinning, trying hard to listen over the noise of your magic keeping you awake. You've fought others? Other humans besides this one? And this human had watched it? How? When?
Their expression suddenly fell, tears returning to their face before attempting more words, this time broken and full of absolute shame.
"But I knew. I knew you wouldn't fight me unless... unless I did... this..." The human clasps their hands to their skull. "Unless I killed everyone else... you wouldn't fight me... you never fight anyone. Not until our sins are so great that we'll break the game if we ever reach the end..."
Reality comes crashing down around your ears. The Game. They'd just sealed it.
Your entire existence - the existence of all the Monsters and the Underground and quite possibly even Aboveground... is a fucking human game.
Resetting the game. Saving the game. Loading the game. From the sounds of it there were even copies of the game that other humans could play at their leisure. This was so far beyond 'timelines' it was nose-diving straight into alternate universes and... and suddenly a lot of the things that Gaster had said and done made 100% sense.
Is this really happening right now? Why the hell are they telling you all this? Do they want a clear conscience before putting you down like the animal in a cage you apparently are?
"For the longest time, I couldn't do it," they continue. "Wouldn't do it." They look at you again, and your SOUL lurches. "I love all of you, so... so damn much and I just couldn't bring myself to... to fucking slaughter all of you in cold blood, just to fight you..."
You dimly wonder if you should feel guilty about that, but The Game reminds you that you literally just got told that you have no control over what you do. It's scripted. It's planned. You couldn't make the choice to fight humans who wanted to fight you before they got to this part of this kind of a play-through.
What a horrible fucking thing to tease these humans with, you abruptly reason.
Especially with knowing so many Monsters in the Royal Guard, it was no strange thing to think that some humans would like sparring just as much as any other warrior or up-and-coming trainee would. It was killing that was wrong, not fighting. And what kind of fighter wouldn't want to test their mettle against the strongest opponent available? You're no braggart, but The Game had obviously set you up as some kind of Final Test, a last wall of defense, and as such, it had required you to be incredibly skilled.
You wouldn't spar unless the human murdered everyone else?
Who made this goddamn game?
The human starts listing all the Monsters they'd killed to get here. They break a little more with each name. Moldsmol, Icedrake, Whimsum, Doggo, Woshua, Pyrope, Knight Knight, Vegetoid - on and on, not seeming to be in any sort of an order, just a prayer of mourning that leaves you bereft of any rage you'd felt before this fight had ended.
"I'm glad Undyne kicked the shit out of me," they confess, and hot regret wells between your teeth. That's right, Undyne... "I made myself watch her melt," the human chokes out, and your regret increases tenfold.
You blink. 'Tori'? You've never heard that name before.
"She... she kept me from... from even starting this run for... for the longest time. There was no way I could leave the Ruins I knowing that I... I've heard that other people have managed to get killed by her but... not me. Whenever my HP dropped to where one more hit would do me in, her attacks started avoiding me. I couldn't even run into them on purpose. An opponent who would never kill you... and you just have to... ..."
Everything is still in your mind, around the harsh ping-ting-ping of magic still flaring in your eye, still proccing from the human forcing their soul at the arena wall, forcing you to stay conscious way longer than you would have otherwise. The Ruins. Tori had to be the woman you'd made your promise to.
The human starts to unravel, trembling violently all over. "M-Mettaton too, he... h-he just s-stands there... he d-doesn't even take a f-fucking turn he just..."
There is one name left and you suddenly don't want to hear it.
Don't say it.
Don't say his name.
Hunching into the floor, face pressed to the smooth tile of the hall, the human just wails. Tears cascade from your own sockets, down your stupidly-permanent grin and drip off the edge of your jaw. Silent.
He'd been right. The son of a bitch had actually been right. This human did have good in them. They had not enjoyed a single second of this entire rampaging genocide. It had destroyed them.
It hits you like a sack of rocks what the human had said at the beginning - "I love all of you so damn much" - and your scripted line about having been friends with this human now rings absolutely true. You all had been friends, hadn't you. They'd played Papyrus' puzzles and humored his attempts at ferocity and (maybe?) even tried his spaghetti and...
"I'm going to let you sleep now."
Your gaze snaps back to the human's. They've composed themselves, at least to where they're sitting up, and DETERMINATION reflects on their countenance. For as damaged as it now is.
"And then I'm going to Reset."
The human's SOUL stops moving. Your magic blips into a coma. Everything blurs as you begin to sink into unconsciousness.
"And I'm going to free you all from the Underground one more time."
That gets your attention. You struggle to stay awake, to hear them speak. They've freed you? How? Goddamn it when?
"And then I am never playing this game ever again."
You fall asleep.
With the memory of a dream, you wake up at your sentry post in Snowdin.